Often referred to as an island continent or “the lucky country”, Australia is girt by more than just sea. Within our pristine waters are some of the most surprising sea creatures and ecosystems on the planet, and it’s that natural beauty that attracts sightseers, swimmers and scuba diving devotees from all over the world.
Australia's oceans and seas include those off the mainland and offshore territories in the Pacific, Southern and Indian Oceans, as well as the Timor, Tasman and Coral Seas. Although the Great Barrier Reef is by far one of the country’s biggest tourism drawcards, there are many other deep sea hot spots and snorkelling and diving destinations to be explored.
Here at People4Ocean, we are long-time ocean lovers and are passionate about what our local waters have to offer, from craggy coral structures to magnificent mammals. Whether it’s a well-known name and region, an unexpected underwater playground or hidden gem, we’ve compiled a list of our top 5 scuba diving spots in Australia, plus notable mentions.
So, slip, slop, and slap on your sunscreen and let’s dive right into it…
1. The Great Barrier Reef (Queensland)
Well, naturally. Stretching out over 2000km long from the northern tip of Queensland down to Bundaberg, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, and the world’s largest coral reef system (it can even be seen from space!) It includes over 900 different islands and around 3,000 separate coral reefs, grass beds and mangroves – including the famous “heart reef” – and thousands of different specifies of marine life, such as fish, molluscs, starfish and sea urchins, sea snakes, seabirds and sea turtles, dugongs and dolphins, sharks and stingrays.
Scuba diving trips are obviously very popular in the region, with the option to tour in one day or over several days. There’s great visibility all year round, and because there are so many different dive sites, it never gets too overcrowded down there.
The best time of the year to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef is between mid-August to mid-December, but if you happen to be there between June to August, there’s a good chance you’ll see dolphins and whales about. Or if you’re after more of an adrenaline rush, head to Osprey Reef to see the shark feeding and catch a glimpse of a Manta Ray!
And don’t forget, scientists are still making remarkable discoveries, so by the time you’re ready to dive, there might even be more to see!
2. Whitsunday Islands (Queensland)
Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are a cluster of 74 tropical islands sitting smack bang in the middle. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced diver, there are plenty of places to cater to all levels of experience, including shallow reefs right near the shoreline of Hamilton Island.
The waters around the islands are teeming with beautiful corals, rock formations, and colourful fish. There are many popular dive sites, but the most iconic one is The Cathedral, on Whitsunday Island. An underwater wonderland, it has a huge cathedral-like opening which narrows into a small network of tunnels.
Hook Island has a lot to offer, including the Pinnacles (with boulder sized coral and jagged rocky points) Woodpile (a steep rock wall drop-off), Luncheon Bay (a haven for moray eels, coral trout, and turtles), and Manta Ray Bay (famous for its underwater caves and of course, Manta Rays!).
The pristine, pale beaches of Hayman Island lead you to the likes of Blue Pearl Bay and the sloping seabeds of Dolphin Point, ironically, home to white tip reef sharks and hammerheads.
3. Ningaloo Reef (Western Australia)
Over on the other side of our great country, north of Perth, lies the sparkling Ningaloo Reef. A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the reef is 260km long and incredibly rich in marine life, from hard corals and rocky outcrops to crayfish, shrimp and big pelagic fish.
At the very top of the peninsular, the coastline forms a bay area that is a protected, fishing and anchoring free zone – making it a great spot to scuba dive! Things to see include Blizzard Ridge, the Labyrinth, and Dibley (known for the weird and wonderful).
During different times of year, Ningaloo Reef plays host to the ocean’s ‘big three’: whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. It’s one of the few places on the planet where you can swim alongside these gliding, glorious gentle giants. Whale sharks can grow up to 16 metres long, and they swim in to Ningaloo between late March and mid-July every year. Between June and November, humpback whales make their annual migration, and they say the sound of their songs underwater is like nothing else on earth!
4. Vernon Islands Blue Holes (Northern Territory)
When you think of the Northern Territory, you often think dry desert landscapes and outback communities. However, not far from Darwin, you’ll find the Vernon Islands (part of the Tiwi Islands).
A little-known feature, however are the Vernon Islands Blue Holes, but they are not your typical sinkholes. Surrounded by sand banks and only exposed at low tide, they form a massive network of lagoons surrounded by reefs and horizontal waterfalls.
The Vernon’s Blue Holes have a greater range of marine animals than anywhere else in the Darwin Harbour. From the surface, colourful corals are visible, with schools of yellowtail fish, golden trevally and trout darting about. Further down into the cooler water, angel fish and parrotfish are aplenty too.
5. Rye Pier (Victoria)
Just a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, Rye Pier is often called one of the easiest but most exciting dive spots on Victoria’s Morning Peninsula, and features Victoria’s first Underwater Marine Trail. A popular fishing, boating and jet ski spot, it's advised to stay under the pier between the pylons to avoid the above water traffic.
Rye Pier is most famous for its three species of seahorse, including the Bigbelly Seahorse (aka Pot Belly Seahorse) and Shorthead Seahorse. Other local marine life are bottom-feeding stingrays, spider crabs, squid, soft corals and sponges, and plenty of varieties of fish. Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you might see some Australian fur seals coming in from the nearby seal colony. Rye Pier is also arguably one of the best places to scuba dive at night, with different coloured sea creatures dancing under torchlight!
Another fascinating find is the man-made Elsa’s Reef, at the very end of Rye Pier. A short 50m swim out, it’s a spot usually teeming with octopus and fish, hiding in various discarded objects including a lion statue, shopping trolley, bicycle, concrete seats, floor tiles, and pots.
Other great scuba diving destinations include:
- Lord Howe Island, North and South Solitary Islands and the South West Rocks in New South Wales
- Port Douglas and Wolf Rock in Queensland
- Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in South Australia
- Bicheno and Eagle Hawk Neck in Tasmania
- Phillip Island, Port Phillip Bay, Portsea Pier, Blairgowrie Pier and Flinders Pier (home of the weedy sea dragon!) in Victoria
- Rowley Shoals in Western Australia